The main routes used by travellers to cross in to Thailand are by air, train or bus but few people travel by boat yet this proved to be a perfect and strangely unique method of transport by which to cross the border.
There are more direct routes, however instead we decided to incorporate other locations that we’d planned to visit along the way and it worked out perfectly. Here’s how we did it with associated costs at the time of journey. Part one details the Malaysian leg of the journey. Part two will detail the Malaysia- Thailand leg.
Mainland Malaysia to Penang:
Transport: Coach. Cost: 32RM each (approx £6).
We began the journey in the early morning as the sun burnt through the mists in the hills of Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands where we’d spent time exploring tea plantations and ancient cloud forests.
We decided to grab breakfast at Yong Teng café, a renowned pancake place which we’d missed checking out throughout our stay in town. Success! They were open. The owners are deaf and communication could be tricky but we ordered our food and drinks. Moments later, freshly cooked pancakes and teh tarik (in a plastic bag of course) was presented to us. The couple were super nice and the food was delicious. Definitely a recommendation!
With no queue at all at the bus station as we’d kept to our habit of travelling during shoulder season. You’re given tickets with assigned seats and the route and time are stamped on the ticket. We took our seats at the front of the coach, behind the driver and chatted to Vicki and Pete- a couple who we’d met at the pancake place- also heading to Penang.
The journey took around 3-3.5hrs with a short pitstop along the way (always use a decent toilet to the best of your ability if you find one!), passing through lush countryside, farmland and towns. The coach took us straight to the ferry terminal. Make sure you check your coach is going here unless you want to explore Butterworth.
Transport: Ferry. Cost: 1.20RM (approx £0.25 with free return if you need it).
The ferry was simple enough to work out. Tickets are only 1.20RM which is no more than £0.25! There is no charge for the return journey which is great but we didn’t need to anyway. Ferries operate throughout the day from early until late so there’s no rush. The ferry itself was fine. The toilet left a lot to be desired but it’s certainly not the worst in SE Asia and the crossing is only around fifteen minutes.
Transport: Taxi. Cost: Negotiable but cheap.
Landing in Georgetown, we attempted to scout a taxi, teaming up with Vicki and Pete. However, the taxi drivers seated around a table playing cards seemed to actively avoid us while telling us to go away or passing us off to another driver who would then do the same to yet another and so on. The usual tactics of taxi mafia types. Their attitudes were not at all welcoming or polite and we spent the rest of the day wondering what we’d done wrong! We now know they’re purely after the big ticket rides from people who look like they’re not going to haggle to the death!
Eventually we managed to flag down a taxi on the main road and stuffed our backpacks as best we could in to the boot with the remainder on our laps. After negotiating a deal (can’t remember the cost but between four people it was super cheap!) with the driver. Off we sped through the streets of Butterworth in a taxi that must have carried hundreds of travellers before us to our hotel (the excellent and stunning Kimberley House in the heart of Penang- follow this link to search for it)
Penang to Langkawi:
After an enjoyable time exploring the unique history and street art of Penang we needed to purchase ferry tickets to Langkawi. We Googled directions to the ticket office after a day in the heat, exploring the Clan Jetties- The research time being a welcome respite from the merciless sun! At the time of writing, the only passenger ferry to Langkawi is run by Super Fast Ferry Ventures which leaves from Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal.
The ticket office is situated the other side of a security gate. The guard pointed us in the right direction. The tickets are straight forward and aren’t refundable so make sure you have the details right.
Transport: Taxi. Cost: Negligible.
The next day, after enjoying some of the best vegetarian food we’ve ever had at EE Beng Restaurant, we returned to the surprisingly modern and large ferry terminal via a taxi that the amazing staff at the Kimberly House Hotel booked for us, to embark on another voyage by sea!
Transport: Ferry. Cost: 68.10RM (approx £13).
The journey takes around two and three quarter hours, the ferry is tidy and smooth running. As you near Langkawi you pass by countless green islands, fishing boats and beaches. You definitely get the sense you’re nearing a larger island.
Transport: Taxi. Cost: Approx 24RM (approx £4.50 divided by four people)
Disembarking at Langkawi we walked through the terminal to find transport to our accommodation at the Izz Room Motel (search for Langkawi accommodation here), a cheap and cheerful room a few minutes walk from the main street in Pentai Cenang. We knew to make sure the taxi was metered. We teamed up with a Dutch couple and shared a taxi ride in to town- a tactic highly recommended to cut costs. They had major trouble finding their accommodation and after a long period of the taxi driver trying to find out where their place was (he stopped to ask people and tried to find it on Google Maps to no avail!) he dropped them off in town and we were then dropped at Izz.
Funnily enough, we then bumped in to the Dutch couple again while hunting for dinner on our first night in Koh Lipe! We’re guessing they were taking the same route. Small world.
So far we’d spent no more than £35 for transport for the both of us and we’d agreed to limit spending on accommodation to £15 per night (for both of us) maximum although we mostly hovered around £10 a night. Agoda did prove to be an excellent choice to find accommodation in S.E. Asia as they specialise in the area (plus we gained points by booking via the Krisflyer portal),
Langkawi was great and as were there during the shoulder season, quieter too. Nearly empty beaches, sunny days and amazing food! We stayed for three days before travelling to Thailand- a journey which will be detailed in part two!
Have you taken this journey? Could you recommend a different route or places to see along the way? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook Page.